Fri, Apr 23, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Taiwan's WHO bid gets boost from US

DOUBTS AIRED The House of Representatives voted for a supportive resolution, but a senior official said that Taiwan's chances of success were still small

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen, right, and Vice Minister Michael Kau, left, express gratitude to the US' House of Representative for supporting Taiwan's bid for WHO observership at a press conference in Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO: WANG MING-WEI, TAIPEI TIMES

The US House of Representatives on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution urging the Bush administration to find a way to secure Taiwan's participation in next month's World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva as an observer, but a senior State Department official gave a grim assessment such an effort's chances.

By a 419-0 vote, the House approved the measure, which urges the American delegation to the WHA to introduce a resolution to give Taiwan observer status in the meeting, and devise a way to get it adopted.

The resolution now must go to the Senate, where a similar bill was introduced in February but has not yet been acted upon by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

According to Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia James Kelly, however, chances that any US resolution would be approved by the WHA members are slim.

Testifying at a hearing of the House International Relations Committee, Kelly said, the prospects are "pretty bad."

While Kelly described the administration's commitment to pass a resolution as "very high," he was less sanguine about prospects that World Health Organization (WHO) members would go along.

"Our commitment to see things through, especially at UN organizations like the WHO, all too frequently, as we saw with the human rights resolution in Geneva, are not matched by results with necessary support that we need to have from other countries," he said.

Washington introduced a resolution at the recent meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission condemning China's human rights record, but Beijing blocked the resolution from a vote.

Kelly said that prospects were further set back by comments on Tuesday by WHO Secretary General Lee Jong-wook that Taiwan must talk to China first before applying for any status in the WHO.

"China has a strong position on this. They will not yield one inch," Lee said after meetings with top Chinese officials in Beijing.

The WHO has already rejected Taiwan's bid for observer status seven times.

Kelly said the prospect "wasn't made better today" by Lee's remarks. He said Lee "was making statements that seemed to very much pre-empt this Taiwan observer status. And I think that's unfortunate."

Kelly said he had talked to Chinese officials to try to convince them that Taiwan's participation would be beneficial to China itself.

"But that's not the way they are handling it. It's being handled in a very political way, and it's not clear that our work and Taiwan's own efforts are going to be successful," he said.

"But we're going to be back there again this year, working hard at it. We're going through all the different options that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who is the US representative, will do there," Kelly said.

He made his comments in response to a question by Representative Robert Wexler, a co-chairman of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, who urged Kelly to try to convince Beijing that Taiwan's participation in the WHO would benefit China.

Kelly said that earlier this month US officials held the latest in what have become annual strategy meetings with Taiwanese officials to hear Taipei's plans and "to work together on how best to advance Taiwan's legitimate interest" in participating in the WHO.

"The question of Taiwan's participation in the WHO deserves a full vetting by the international community," he said.

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